The Winding Road to Tablas Creek: We Interview our 2019 Harvest Interns, Ryan Brennan and Adrian Garcia
By Ian Consoli
Every year Winemaker Neil Collins hand selects two eager individuals, usually just starting a career in wine, to join our cellar team for harvest and commence the activities of shoveling grape skins, sorting clusters, and washing presses, bins, and barrels. Cellar work is certainly glorified as a romantic, energetic, and gleeful experience in which a community bonds over the long hours and fermenting aromas that fill the cellars, and it is this; however, it's strenuous, with long hours and close quarters with your team. It takes a certain kind of individual to thrive in this environment day in and day out for one, two, even three months at a time. This year we found two of those individuals from opposite sides of the country with both direct and indirect paths to the Tablas Creek cellar. This is Ryan's and Adrian's story.
Who are you?
Where did you grow up?
R: I grew up mostly in Virginia. My family is from New England, my dad is military so we bounced around quite a bit, but my formative years were in Virginia.
A: I am from Cupertino, but not the city of Cupertino; I live up in the mountains kind of hidden away on Montebello road. I moved there when I was three and spent most of my life up there.
When and how did you get into wine?
R: I was a history and politics student in school and realized I'd rather make people happy than make people mad so I got out of politics before I even started. I ended up doing some organic farming work with a WOOFing program, which is a pretty cool program. I was in Sweden, my co-WOOFers and I were just WOOFing around doing some stuff and realized we could be making alcohol at the same time so we started fermenting things in our bathtub, with the farmer’s approval of course. We used apples and cherries and all sorts of fun things. We did grow grapes so that was my first exposure to the magic of making alcohol. I spent a little time in restaurants drinking more and tasting more after that.
A: I grew up around it. My dad's been working at Ridge Vineyards since he was 17.
What experience did you have prior to Tablas Creek?
R: An opportunity opened up for me at a 3 acre vineyard in New Hampshire of all places. We made batches a little over 100 gallons and I thought that was huge. After that initial introduction a much better opportunity came up in Vermont with a winery that had just won the International Cold Climate Winery of the Year competition. Which it doesn’t sound impressive in California but for everywhere else where it gets cold and there are seasons, it’s pretty awesome. I figured if I could learn how to grow grapes and make wine an hour south of the Canadian border I could do it anywhere. After a little stint in Edna Valley I ended up here in Paso.
A: I officially started getting involved with winemaking when I was 18, straight out of high school, doing mostly vineyard work. I did some lab and vineyard work for Ridge Vineyards for a while then I started working in the cellar once I went to Fresno State. I’ve been in their cellar for about 2 years up until I came here.
How did you hear about Tablas Creek?
R: I was in Vermont and I met Dani Archambeault, who used to work in the wine club at Tablas. She said some pretty nice things that got me excited about the Central Coast and the possibility of coming out this way.
A: I've kind of heard the name since a while back and thought Tablas sounded interesting. I started looked more into their farming and I'm like, this is pretty sick.
How did you end up working harvest with us?
R: I got Neil’s contact info from Dani and I just kept bothering him until I got a job.
A: The viticulturist back home, David Gates, asked me what I was going to do after college and I'm like, Mmm I’ll do some internships. Tablas Creek seem like a nice place. He tells me, well they're going to be here [Ridge Vineyards] next week doing a tour if you want to talk to them. That’s where I met Neil, asked if I could be an intern, and he said yes.
How often do you shower?
A: Every single day
R: Every day for my girlfriend.
How is harvest going?
R: Oh, it’s fine laughs
We recently processed 51 tons in a day, what did you do when you got home that night?
R: I'll be honest with you it wasn't that hard, it was a fine day. We all work together really well. I mean a lot came in and we were on the table for a while sorting things out and running around, but the team works really well together. So I went home, had a beer and went to bed.
A: Same thing it wasn't that bad. It's pretty efficient here. I went home, chilled, listened to music and went to sleep.
What is your ultimate goal in cellar work?
R: This is a cellar rotation as far as I'm concerned. I spent my first couple years doing cellar work just because someone else needed to do it, but my main focus has been on vineyard work. The place I was working in Vermont, Lincoln Peak, was about 13 acres or so. While there I got to see how a small property like that allows you to get involved in all aspects of the production, so I’m looking at a similar idea down the road; a smaller place 13-15 acres max where you can get a lot of time outside and very little inside.
A: I dislike how people say the Central Valley can't produce great wine. It can, I just think if we planted varieties suited for warmer climates we would have greater success. In Madera, or Fresno, or Lodi it's super-hot during the summers, if you had maybe some Rhone and Spanish varieties, which are good for warmer climate, I think you can make some really great wine over there. It's my dream to prove it.
If a genie said you could be head winemaker anywhere you wanted, where would you pick?
R: I don't know there's a lot back in Virginia I’d like to be a part of. Linden Vineyards is a pretty extraordinary place, it’s definitely one of the best if not the best places on the East Coast that make tremendous wine.
A: I have some aspirations to be the head winemaker at Ridge Vineyards because that's where I grew up and that’s where my dad has been working a lot so it would be cool to, you know, have the son of a cellar worker be the head boss.
Best bottle of wine you ever had?
R: It's probably not technically the best one I've ever had, but in terms of the best experience drinking a wine... When you're in Sweden the swedes aren't too pretentious, they don't really care about the packaging, they don't care if its cork or screw-top, in this case it was a very high end organic boxed wine out of Argentina. I don't remember the label, but it was incredible wine, it went so well with what we were eating. A picnic table outside the greenhouse picking vegetables next to us for a salad, grilling stuff up on the grill, Midnight Sun, it was 11 and still sunny out. I mean that's the best wine I ever had and it came out of a box and bag. I’d also like to add the best single bottle I can name was a 2016 Stolo Syrah. It was a game changer for me. It tasted like liquid beef jerky and made me want to become a Syrah grower.
A: There is one pretty damn good bottle of wine that comes to mind and I think the situation made it even better. It was an old Ridge Montebello that one of my cousins stole from his dad, my uncle, back when he worked at Ridge and then stored for years. When we finally decided to open it up we were at a typical Mexican Thanksgiving with tons of people, great food, and probably the last place you would expect to see an 81 Montebello Estate from Ridge. I think 81 or 88, and it was pretty damn good, funny, funny situation.
What’s next for you?
R: Stay in the area. I’m actually looking at a house to rent right now but the job has to come first so if anyone’s looking…
A: Not sure. I could go back home and work in the vineyard. I’ve also been checking out some wineries in the central valley I would like to work at, or I could start doing internships abroad.
Would Your Rather:
Cake or Pie?
Breathe underwater or fly?
New World or Old World?
Old World, New World
Winemaker or Viticulturist